Surgery for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Surgery to remove the spleen (called a splenectomy) is sometimes used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). This surgery may be done if chemotherapy and radiation do not shrink the spleen when it is larger than normal, or enlarged.

You may have your spleen removed to:

  • relieve discomfort and pain from an enlarged spleen pressing on other organs
  • improve blood cell counts so you don’t need blood transfusions


The spleen is on the upper-left side of the abdomen. It is attached to the stomach, left kidney and colon (the longest part of the large intestine). A splenectomy is done under a general anesthetic.

During surgery, the surgeon makes an incision, or cut, in the abdomen to remove the spleen. Sometimes the surgeon will make a smaller incision and use a laparoscope (called laparoscopic surgery) to remove the spleen.

Most people completely recover 4–6 weeks after a splenectomy. Recovery time may be shorter after laparoscopic surgery.

Your healthcare team may give you some immunizations before surgery to remove the spleen.

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for CLL, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have only a few side effects.

Side effects can develop any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after surgery. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after surgery. Most side effects will go away on their own or can be treated, but some may last a long time or become permanent.

Side effects of surgery will depend mainly on the type of surgery and your overall health.

Splenectomy may cause these side effects:

Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from surgery. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Questions to ask about surgery

Find out more about surgery and side effects of surgery. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about surgery.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Leukemia - Chronic Lymphocytic. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2013:
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Leukemia - Chronic Lymphocytic - CLL: Treatment Options. Alexandria, VA.: American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO); 2014:
  • Mir Muhammad A . Chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment & management. WebMD LLC; 2014.
  • Spleen removal. National Cancer Institute & National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute & National Library of Medicine; 2013.
  • Wierda WG, O'Brien S . Chronic lymphocytic leukemia. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 134: pp. 1973-1987.